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Restore Faith in EVMs

Electoral process has to Be fair and transparent

A controversy has erupted once again over the efficacy of EVMs (electronic voting machines). Complaints have been pouring in from across the country that a number of EVMs malfunctioned during the first phase of polling in the Lok Sabha elections. There have also been complaints that votes cast in favour of candidates of other parties were going into the account of Bharatiya Janata Party candidates, both in EVMs as well as in Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). In view of such complaints the opposition parties have decided to approach the Supreme Court once again to plead that 50 per cent of the votes recorded in the EVMs be tallied with VVPAT. The opposition parties alleged that the Election Commission of India has failed to make the electoral system foolproof and has been plainly dismissing their complaints. On April 8 the Supreme Court had directed the ECI to increase VVPAT tallying from one EVM per Assembly constituency to five EVMs. The complaints of malfunctioning and votes going to candidates other than intended in the first phase of polling has brought the fears of lack of precision and manipulation to the fore again.

This is not the first time that doubts have been raised over the efficacy of EVMs. The opposition parties have been raising doubts over their precise functioning over the last two years. They have also been demanding that India revert to ballot paper as they feared that the EVMs could be tampered by the ruling party. The Election Commission has repeatedly trashed the complaints that the EVMs can be tampered with or they can give a response not according to the action of the voter. The cases of malfunctioning during the first phase of polling in the Lok Sabha elections however show that EVMs can function imprecisely, leading to an unintended choice. The malfunctioning of the voting machines and votes going to unintended candidate are issues that have given the opposition parties reasons to approach the Supreme Court once again to seek its help to rectify the faults by directing ECI to tally 50 per cent of votes recorded in the EVMs with VVPAT. The best way of resolving the complaints of malfunctioning, if not tampering, of EVMs would be to broaden the cross-checking with VVPAT.

No evidence has surfaced so far of the ruling party manipulating the machines in a programmed pattern as the opposition parties have alleged. However, the Election Commission should not stop at dismissing the allegation. The ECI should not object to broader cross-checking with VVPAT as that would prove its contention that it was not possible for any party to programme EVMs. With questions of neutrality being raised with respect to the electoral system, it is necessary that the issue is settled to the satisfaction of all. The ECI must admit that it had all the time to prepare for the elections and yet its EVMs did not give hundred per cent perfect performance in several places. It should have taken steps to ensure that there was no possibility of mass malfunctioning of EVMs. Were the machines not tested beforehand to ensure that they would stand the test of time? If the ECI opposes increasing the size of the sample for cross-checking they would only be widening the room for opposition parties to say that the EVMs were malfunctioning not because of technical faults but because of biased programming.

As the whole election process is controlled by the ECI, it is their duty to correct the faults that have crept into the system and ensure that the election was fair and transparent. Dismissing the complaints as glitches in the EVMs would not help correct the system as a good number of machines malfunctioning might deepen doubts. Even a few votes going in favour of a candidate other than intended by the voter could tilt the balance in their favour. Hence all care should be taken that technical glitches do not occur to address the doubts. India has come a long way from the paper ballot era. Ballot papers could be snatched and could be stamped by others. Voting could be manipulated. EVMs raised the hopes of transparency and helped in quicker results but they too have come under shadow because of faults which should be rectified to restore full faith in the electoral system.

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